The Absa Cape Epic was one of the first major cycling events to get canceled at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many riders, like EF Education Nippo's Alex Howes and Lachlan Morton, were already in South Africa when the race announced the cancelation.
Ever since, the teammates who are known for riding 'alternative' road, mountain bike, and gravel events have been looking forward to going back to the mountain bike stage race. However, Howes broke his pinky finger in the lead-up to this year's event, leaving him unable to grip his handlebars on rough descents.
“Alex and I were devastated when we heard he’d be unable to race,” Lachlan said in an EF press release. “We’ve been on this journey so long.”
Morton reached out to 25-year-old Kenneth Karaya of Kenya. Karaya races for AMANI Project, which promotes cycling in Africa, and he is one of the best mountain bikers in Kenya, having won mountain bike and road races.
“I’m familiar with their program and know that they’ve got some great riders looking for racing opportunities,” Lachlan said. “I figured it was a perfect match and reached out, hoping it would work out.”
Karaya accepted Morton's offer, and will soon start the biggest mountain bike race that he's ever done.
“I have never been to such a race,” Kenneth said. “I don’t know what can happen. I don’t know the level of competitors who are going to be there. In Kenya, I dominate the off-road races quite easily, but, you know, Cape Epic is a big, big race. I think it is the Tour de France of mountain biking, so I expect anything, whatever comes.”
Karaya and Morton met in person just days ahead of the first stage, and Karaya says that he hopes to bring the experience of participating in the race back home to Kenya.
“Since I am a guy from the village, I still have the urge to bring back what I get from outside there,” Kenneth said. “With the guys from the village, I want to tell them the stories, tell them they can make it. I want in some way to change our village. I want to change these young riders who want to be cyclists, change their mentality, for a better future.”
Karaya is confident in his mechanical skills in case the duo runs into trouble over the course of more than 600km, and Morton is happy to have a renewed chance at participating in the Cape Epic.
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